Picture: 123RF/LUKAS GOJDA
Picture: 123RF/LUKAS GOJDA

Jockeys are not letting the grass grow under their feet during the coronavirus crisis, and have made formal representations to the department of sport, art and culture for financial relief.

The action has come since minister Nathi Mthethwa announced a R150m relief fund to soften the economic effect of the virus.

Jockey MJ Byleveld, one of the country's top riders and chair of the Coastal Jockeys Association, has issued a statement saying that “jockeys were technically self-employed sportsmen and were not earning while racing was suspended”.

“It’s a worrying situation. We are hopeful that we will be able to assist our members through the support of the government,” said Byleveld.

Business Day asked Vee Moodley, CEO of the National Horseracing Authority, if he believed grants were available.

He said: “I believe there are grants available, but I’m unsure whether jockeys, trainers etc fall under SMMEs or microbusinesses — this will have to be researched.”

“My current focus is to take care of the horse and the human element from a ‘virus-free’ perspective. I am in the process of ascertaining the best way to claim from the UIF for National Horseracing Authority staff,” said Moodley.

There has been clarification of the relief for self-employed people in the UK with chancellor Rishi Sunak announcing a grant of 80% of a person’s monthly salary up to a maximum of £2,500 (about R60,000).

The UK’s Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) is preparing a system to offer hardship grants to its members. This could start within the next seven days.

PJA chair Paul Struthers has had a paper approved to provide support for jockeys, agents and valets. He said the paper would be sent to the British Horseracing Authority.

“The paper highlights that long-term support is likely to be needed given the announcement that jump racing is suspended until July 1,” said Struthers.

In a media release issued by Phumelela Gaming & Leisure and Gold Circle, the racing operators warned of a serious worry for owners — a further reduction in stakes.

They said: “Extreme measures have been introduced to ensure that racing centres can continue to operate naturally thereby addressing the horse welfare concerns as well as ensuring that horses will be fit and ready to go when racing does resume.

“Given these extreme circumstances, it is likely that when racing does resume a significant reduction in stakes levels will be necessary until a semblance of normality is restored to the business which may not be instantaneous.”

While there are lots of promises from many sectors during this coronavirus crisis, what is needed is action rather than words. In this regard, the Racing Association has acted swiftly to assist grooms.

Racing Association board member Charles Savage has announced that a decision was taken by the board “to provide funding for the feeding of grooms at various centres”.